Towards the end of 2015 I posted State Nickname Streets, which was exactly what it sounded like, a compendium of at least one street named in each state for its official nickname. I supposed it must have stuck in my subconscious because the notion returned. This time, however, I fixated on a several different sets of objects bearing state nicknames. The list on Wikipedia came in handy again although I expanded it a bit. Unofficial nicknames were fine this time.
Empire State Building
The Empire State Building NYC, NY by Roger on Flickr (cc)
The Empire State Building brought everything to a head and sparked a search for more examples. New York, of course, was the Empire State. The iconic art deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan drew upon this nickname to create a parallel with the greatness of the city and the state where it located (map). It amazed architects and art aficionados alike when it opened in 1931, rising more than 1,400 feet from street to spire, climbing 102 stories above Fifth Avenue. It remained the tallest building in the world for the next four decades. The Empire State Building became a beloved symbol, a stand-in for New York City itself in thousands of cultural references. Who could ever forget, for example, King Kong swatting airplanes from atop the building at the climax of the 1933 movie?
Oddly, nobody knew exactly how or why or when New York came to be known as the Empire State. The New York Historical Society offered one plausible theory,
Signs commonly point to George Washington. Although other, unsubstantiated stories crediting Washington exist, the best documented source is a 1785 thank-you letter to the New York Common Council for bestowing upon him the Freedom of the City. In addition to praising New York’s resilience in the war he describes the State of New York as "the Seat of the Empire."
Other sources pointed more generally to abundant natural resources found throughout New York and concentrations of wealth and capital that emerged there in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Apparently that qualified it as an Empire, at least as a nickname. The history was murky.
Old Dominion University
Old Dominion University by withvengeance86 on Flickr (cc)
The Commonwealth of Virginia designated an entire public university to carry its nickname, Old Dominion University in Norfolk. It began originally as a satellite campus of the College of William & Mary and grew from there, splitting-off and gaining independence along with its new name in 1962 (map). Now ODU has nearly twenty-five thousand students — about three times as many as its parent.
The origin of Virginia’s nickname, alas like New York, seemed shrouded in history. The Library of Virginia did its best to provide an explanation.
While this name clearly refers to Virginia’s status as England’s oldest colony in the Americas, it is impossible to trace the origin of the term with precision. In 1660 Charles II acknowledged a gift of silk from "our auntient dominion of Virginia."… As early as 1699, the phrase "most Ancient Colloney and Dominion" appeared in official state documents.
There was also a body of mythology and speculation commonly mentioned on other websites that tied the nickname to an era when Virginia supported Charles II during the English Civil War. The name purportedly referenced the Commonwealth’s loyalty to the monarch.
I wasn’t able to find any other universities named directly for their state nicknames although I didn’t search exhaustively either. Maryland came close. It was the Free State among other nicknames, and I did find a University of the Free State, however it was in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (map). Maybe the 12MC audience would know of others.
Golden State Warriors vs Toronto Raptors by Florent Lamoureux on Flickr (cc)
There might have been few universities directly carrying the responsibility of a state nickname, however there were plenty of schools that used nicknames (official and unofficial) to represent their sports teams. Very quickly, I came up with Arkansas Razorbacks, Delaware Blue Hens, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oregon State Beavers, Tennessee Volunteers, Wisconsin Badgers, and Wyoming Cowboys.
It wasn’t clear to me which came first in many cases, the sports team names or the state nicknames. Did the state gain a nickname from the university’s sports team or did the team honor an existing state nickname? Sure, there were Hoosiers in Indiana (at least as early as 1827) before Indiana University began intercollegiate football (1887). What about gophers or beavers or badgers, though?
Professional basketball provided a great instance of a team appropriating a state nickname to cover a large geographic footprint, the Golden State Warriors. While based at Oracle Arena in Oakland (map) Golden State laid claim to the entirety of California. The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, and the Sacramento Kings might have begged to differ.
Old Dominion University’s sports name, by the way, was The Monarchs. They missed a great opportunity to grab the sole double-nickname, Old Dominion Dominions.
The Commercial World
Midnight Sun Brewing Company; Anchorage, Alaska — my own photo
Literally hundreds of business, primarily small ones, adopted state nicknames to represent their companies or specific brand names. I thought of a couple of pretty large ones too. The first one that came to mind was Quaker State Motor Oil. This brand actually dated all the way back to 1859, arising during the Pennsylvania Oil Boom in the state where the U.S. petroleum industry got its initial start. The brand was developed for "petroleum products to lubricate steam engines, machinery and wagons." It’s now part of Royal Dutch Shell. I also thought of Lone Star Beer, a brand dating back to 1884. It’s still brewed in Texas although currently owned by Pabst Brewing Co. and produced under contract at a Miller Brewing Company facility in Fort Worth.
Of course, I also had to recognize tiny Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Alaska because I visited there a few years ago (map).
A weird pattern emerged as I researched an article a couple of months ago and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Was it a geo-oddity or simply an oddity? Would it fit within the subject matter of 12MC? Would some readers find it too bizarre? Ultimately I decided I could focus on a tenuous geographic connection and shoehorn the topic into a suitable article.
Consider the following list of people and determine their commonality: Richard Nixon, Malcolm X, Andy Warhol, Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and Joey Ramone. Think about it for a moment if you’d like or continue reading and let the answer reveal itself. Being a native New Yorker might be helpful.
The answer wasn’t a list of attendees from the world’s strangest cocktail party. It was something more permanent. Would it help if I mentioned that I was working on Presidential Death Locations when I encountered the list?
They all died at the same hospital.
Joey Ramone, Godfather of Punk Rock by Tony Fischer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
The topic was morbid enough that I considered saving it for Halloween. However I tried something like that last year and apparently I enjoyed the resulting article a lot more than the Twelve Mile Circle audience. It didn’t receive much attention and it fell pretty flat, just another example demonstrating my inability to predict audience reactions.
Indeed, a big list of famous people all died at the same hospital in New York City (map). I found that fascinating. Maybe some of you did too, maybe the rest of you did not.
I discovered two more salient points as I continued with my research. First, Wikipedia produced some rather remarkable lists when I searched it for "notable hospital deaths." Admittedly, I stole liberally from Wikipedia because nobody had yet created a definitive collection of celebrity deaths sorted by hospital (and here I though everything was available on the Intertubes). Second, very few hospitals had a meaningful collection of notable deaths. Clusters were confined to places where famous people of various stripes congregated during their lifetimes, limited primarily to New York City and the greater Los Angeles area. That made sense.
Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, New York
Wendell Wilkie campaigns in Mass. by Boston Public Library, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Lenox Hill Hospital (map), a teaching hospital for various universities and also in Manhattan, began in the 19th Century as the German Dispensary. The name changed to Lenox Hill during the First World War when it was fashionable to whitewash every possible remote connection to Germany. Lenox Hill didn’t have quite the eclectic pedigree of notable deaths as displayed by NewYork–Presbyterian although it still had a pretty impressive spread including Wendell Willkie, Ed Sullivan, Alvin Ailey, Alger Hiss and Nipsey Russell (politician, showman, dancer, spy and comedian).
Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Burbank, California
Walt Disney statue at Disney World. My own photo.
Quite predictably, celebrity deaths at hospitals in the Los Angeles metropolitan area tended to skew towards show business personalities. That still provided a wide spectrum. Case in point, if one were to consider a fictional dinner party in the afterlife, imagine a guest list including Walt Disney, Corey Haim, John Ritter, and Ronnie James Dio. They all passed away at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank (map). The location was particularly convenient for Walt Disney as he sought treatment for lung cancer. The hospital was directly across the street from Walt Disney Studios.
John Ritter had the added distinction of being born at the hospital and passing away at the same place 54 years later. I imagined the list of celebrities who arrived into this world and departed for the great beyond at the same location must have been rather short. That’s your 12MC trivia for the day.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California
003la by Mike Atherton, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Oddly enough, Twelve Mile Circle featured Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (map) in a previous article, Comedy Duos, that focused on the intersection of two streets, Burns and Allen. As I noted at the time, "The intersection’s full name was N George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive. Burns and Allen were major benefactors of the hospital."
Cedars-Sinai was dubbed "Hollywood’s Glamour Hospital" by the Hollywood Reporter. Its list of celebrity patients stretched for pages and naturally some of them never recovered. Groucho Marx, Andy Kaufman, Eazy-E, Frank Sinatra, and Ernest Borgnine all spent their final moments there.
I came across an unusual neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina where many of the streets were named for different genres of dance. Why yes, it was a mobile home park. How did you guess?
Schenley Square, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
It further confirmed my theory that trailer parks have the best street names, using labels that everyone would love to have if society didn’t constrain them with highfalutin notions. Waltz, Minuet and Polonaise sounded almost normal. Modern and Folk were pretty lame, though — get it, Modern Dance, Folk Dance, really? Cha Cha, Swing and Twist started getting more adventurous. Break Dance and Hip Hop definitely took some guts. At a main entrance to the community though, visible to the entire outside world (Street View), a road named Disco Lane? Exceptional.
That transported me mentally to a carefree time in musical history when Disco ruled the planet, sandwiched firmly between the activism of Hippies and the anger of Punks. Did the denizens of discotheques, mirror balls and polyester leisure suits leave any physical marks upon the geographic landscape other than a random trailer park in North Carolina? Not particularly. Disco may have become a pop cultural phenomenon briefly during the 1970’s, however most partakers denied knowledge afterwards. Nonetheless I found plenty of places with coincidental naming.
Disco Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The U.S. Geographic Names Information System listed four populated Discos, one found in Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin respectively. None of them was larger than a flyspeck. The occurrence in Tennessee may have been the most significant. It even included the wonderfully-named Disco Loop Road (map).
I’m not letting Canada off-the-hook either. The Canadian 12MC audience can always visit Disco Road in Toronto. They can dump their garbage at the Disco. I’m not kidding. The city maintains a drop-off depot for household hazardous waste and electronics at 120 Disco Road. I’m sure Toronto wasn’t trashing Disco intentionally. I’m also sure that Toronto West Detention Centre at 111 Disco Road wasn’t intended as a slight either. All coincidental, I assure you. Or was it? Why did all the Disco fans disappear suddenly after Disco Demolition Night?
Do the Hustle
Hustle, Virginia, USA
The Hustle may have been Disco’s defining dance. It exploded in popularity after Van McCoy & the Soul City Symphony released their song of the same name in 1975. This will be the one and only time Van McCoy & the Soul City Symphony will ever be mentioned in Twelve Mile Circle so mark it down and remember the date.
I found Hustle in Virginia. It wasn’t a town proper, just a crossroads, although it did have its own Zip Code – 22476. Conceivably, disco aficionados could carry an envelope to the post office and go home with a coveted Hustle postmark if they so desired.
Saturday Night Fever
Saturday Night Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
If Disco had a defining dance it also had a defining movie, Saturday Night Fever, a theatrical pandemic from 1977. IMDB summarized it with few words, "a Brooklyn youth feels his only chance to get somewhere is as the king of the disco floor." That was the extent of any meaningful plot. It launched the career of John Travolta in the title role.(¹) The soundtrack released by the Bee Gees also became phenomenally successful.
I found Saturday Night Lake in Alberta (map above) and Saturday Night Hill in Montana (map) along with several other much smaller features with similar names.
Travolta St., Stafford Heights, Queensland, Australia
With respect to Mr. Travolta once again, I discovered him amongst several other era-appropriate actors, singers and entertainers in the streets of a development in Stafford Heights, Queensland, Australia. The same development also contained, I believe, the only street in the world named for Ernest Borgnine. Personally, I’d love to live at the corner of (Dolly) Parton and (Elvis) Presley Streets.
McBurney YMCA, New York City, New York, USA
It would be difficult to assign a signature song to the Disco era because it had so many iconic contenders. Y.M.C.A. by the Village People certainly qualified for elite status because of its sheer staying power. New York City’s Greenwich Village was the village of the Village People so I’d nominate the McBurney YMCA for special attention. Technically I guess it’s on the wrong side of W. 14th Street which puts it just north of the Village. Close enough for me.
And now I can’t get The Hustle out of my head. This will be a long, agonizing day.
(¹) Let’s not even pretend he can afford a home with its own jumbo jet hanger because of his earlier "groundbreaking" work in Welcome Back, Kotter where his primary claim involved coining the catchphrase "up your nose with a rubber hose."